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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Comparative genomic analysis of Vibrio parahaemolyticus: serotype conversion and virulence

Yuansha Chen12, O Colin Stine3, Jonathan H Badger7, Ana I Gil4, G Balakrish Nair5, Mitsuaki Nishibuchi6 and Derrick E Fouts7*

Author Affiliations

1 Emerging Pathogens Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

2 Department of Pathology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

3 School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, USA

4 Instituto de Investigación Nutricional, Peru

5 National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata, India

6 Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan

7 The J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, MD, USA

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:294  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-294

Published: 6 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a common cause of foodborne disease. Beginning in 1996, a more virulent strain having serotype O3:K6 caused major outbreaks in India and other parts of the world, resulting in the emergence of a pandemic. Other serovariants of this strain emerged during its dissemination and together with the original O3:K6 were termed strains of the pandemic clone. Two genomes, one of this virulent strain and one pre-pandemic strain have been sequenced. We sequenced four additional genomes of V. parahaemolyticus in this study that were isolated from different geographical regions and time points. Comparative genomic analyses of six strains of V. parahaemolyticus isolated from Asia and Peru were performed in order to advance knowledge concerning the evolution of V. parahaemolyticus; specifically, the genetic changes contributing to serotype conversion and virulence. Two pre-pandemic strains and three pandemic strains, isolated from different geographical regions, were serotype O3:K6 and either toxin profiles (tdh+, trh-) or (tdh-, trh+). The sixth pandemic strain sequenced in this study was serotype O4:K68.

Results

Genomic analyses revealed that the trh+ and tdh+ strains had different types of pathogenicity islands and mobile elements as well as major structural differences between the tdh pathogenicity islands of the pre-pandemic and pandemic strains. In addition, the results of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis showed that 94% of the SNPs between O3:K6 and O4:K68 pandemic isolates were within a 141 kb region surrounding the O- and K-antigen-encoding gene clusters. The "core" genes of V. parahaemolyticus were also compared to those of V. cholerae and V. vulnificus, in order to delineate differences between these three pathogenic species. Approximately one-half (49-59%) of each species' core genes were conserved in all three species, and 14-24% of the core genes were species-specific and in different functional categories.

Conclusions

Our data support the idea that the pandemic strains are closely related and that recent South American outbreaks of foodborne disease caused by V. parahaemolyticus are closely linked to outbreaks in India. Serotype conversion from O3:K6 to O4:K68 was likely due to a recombination event involving a region much larger than the O-antigen- and K-antigen-encoding gene clusters. Major differences between pathogenicity islands and mobile elements are also likely driving the evolution of V. parahaemolyticus. In addition, our analyses categorized genes that may be useful in differentiating pathogenic Vibrios at the species level.